Friday, September 7, 2012

Lend Me Your Ears (and Four More Years while you're at it)

I listened to the President's speech last night, well, most of it.  An area thunderstorm interrupted the TV reception at the beginning.  I also watched, believe it or not, the end, a goodly portion too, of Joe Biden's.

As there was nothing essentially surprising in either man's words, I began wondering as I watched what is it that makes for a good speech anyway.  Assuming it has a theme and is sensibly organized, what makes a speech work?  Both men, and Bill Clinton too, know how to stand and speak comfortably in front of a crowd.  While that's critical, it's only the first item in the recipe.  The weight of the occasion is equally important and they each had that going for them.  The receptivity of the audience is critical too and there's no doubt the assembled were all ears.  (I'm less sure about the viewing audience.)

As I say, I watched Biden speak, I didn't, because I couldn't, really listen to him, however.  I place Biden in exactly the same camp as I do Bill Clinton, which is why I didn't watch him the night before.  They are both such transparent gasbaggers, I simply cannot take either man seriously.  Moreover, I'm forever amazed that anyone does, which serves to irritate me as well.  But then I was always amazed, and irritated, that the pretty girl at the party took the obviously BS-ing guy seriously too, but she often did.

My own taste in speechmaking tends more toward the style of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.  You can expect no rhetorical flights from either man.  Gary Cooper-like, they confidently say what they mean and then dare you to disagree with them.  I love it.  While George W. Bush had, I think, very good speechwriters and always seemed comfortable in front of a crowd, he rarely seemed comfortable delivering a speech.  Speechmaking is a subset of acting, of pretending, and I wager it always made him feel more than a bit phony.  When that happens and one becomes self-conscience, the whole thing is in danger of falling apart.

Back to last night's speech:  In a sense, Obama had everything going for him.  High expectations can be dangerous, but they also mean everyone is listening.  In the end, however, I'd have to say he failed.  While competently delivered, the speech contained no surprises and no memorable lines or phrases.  It simply reemphasized the campaign's already well-developed theme:  It's still Bush and the Republicans' fault--It was worse than I thought--I promise the same, only more--I need more time.

Time, thankfully, is running out for the President.

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